Pinhole Photography and Traces of Hiroshima

•June 2, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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Many years ago my father joined the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces (BCOF) and was stationed in Hiroshima in 1947, where he assisted in rebuilding the city. My childhood was filed with the traces of Hiroshima, from the terrifying black and white atomic bombing ‘before and after’ souvenir photographs sold to the occupation forces, through to a beautiful kimono with a dragon embroiled in rich gold thread.

In November last year I visited the city of Hiroshima for one week. During this time I commenced work on my Phd photographic project in which I am using a series of pinhole camera and lo-fi photographic processes to create images of the city. My project explores the concept of liminality, interrogating the concept of liminal spaces and how photography may be used to expose temporal gaps and overlays that conjoin past and present within the one photographic image.

The images (see above) were taking using a pinhole camera loaded with 4 x 5 black and white film. On my return to Hiroshima I plan to create a series of small pinhole cameras that will be situated around the busy city of Hiroshima. These pinhole cameras capture long exposure images, leaving only traces of the people who now occupy the city. The other project will involve the collection of a large series of color portraits of people living in Hiroshima, these photographs will be taken using my Mamiya 22o medium format camera.

This work aims to use the photographic image as a portal to liminal spaces; where the past folds over the present and then recedes back into the distance like a wave from a distant shore. For a fleeting moment we may experience time as a moment that is neither here nor there,  where past and present co-exist. The photographs should be understood as experiments as I work towards a final body of photographic work.



The Dystopic tale of Gunkanjima

•December 9, 2015 • 1 Comment


Untitled #1, Dean Keep, 2015.

Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) is a small island just a short boat ride (40 mins) from Nagasaki. Gunkanjima was once the site of an undersea coal mine established in the late 1800’s and was occupied by many workers, including Koreans who were used as forced labour in the mines. Over time, many buildings were constructed to house the growing number of workers and their families. Up until its closure in 1974, there were 5000 residents on the island. Today the deserted island sits floating in the sea like a ghostly mirage, its concrete buildings eroded by the salt-laden winds that howl through the now deserted city. You can find out more about Gunkanjima by watching the short documentary video below.

My visit to the island involved booking a tour at the Nagasaki Port and a boat ride to the island. The boat stops at the island for approximately 40 mins so that visitors can experience a small section of the island on foot, as well as a short history lesson in Japanese language. At Gunkanjima there is no need for words, the crumbling structures may be considered ‘memory sculptures’ (Huyssen, 2003, p.110). These large slabs of decaying concrete carry the visual traces of occupation. Now all that remains is a crumbling ruin, the sound of the sea, and the song of black kites who glide on the sea breeze.

12274297_10153253424558587_2902741140278679546_nGunkangima, smartphone video still, Dean Keep, 2015.

Gunkanjima video still 1
Gunkangima, smartphone video still, Dean Keep, 2015.

It’s difficult not to draw parallels with the aftermath of the A-Bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as you walk amongst the modern ruins of Gunkanjima. Present and past fold over each other, creating a palimpsest of absence and presence. My challenge now is to delve deep into the images that I have captured during my time in Japan and consider creative strategies that will tease out the narratives that lay embedded within these mediated traces. No one image or photographic technique can embody the flow of time, so at this point in my Phd it would appear that the way forward is to apply multiple creative strategies  and imaging techniques as a means of building a body of work that best reflects the affective nature of my (post) memories of Japan.

Re-imaging Hiroshima

•December 7, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Train to Hiroshima. from Dean Keep on Vimeo.

After presenting at a media conference in Kobe on Monday 16th November I boarded a bullet train to Hiroshima. My father had been stationed at Hiroshima with the British Commonwealth Occupational Forces almost 70 years ago and I have grown up with my father’s stories of the destruction he saw in Hiroshima.

As I sat on the train, I held my smartphone against the window to record the mediated traces of an unfamiliar world. I watched as urban spaces, factories, streams and lush green mountains came into view then drifted away as the train moved ever closer to Hiroshima, a city I have wanted to visit for so many years.

I grew up with the echoes of the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima. On return from Hiroshima, my father had brought back a collection of souvenirs, including a kimono, ceramics and photographs depicting the damage inflicted upon Hiroshima. I can still recall finding my father’s photographs of Hiroshima in a shoebox when I was a young child. Each photograph a gruesome diptych containing a before and after image, the two images separated by a thin white border, a horizon line. Here I’m reminded of Rothko’s paintings and how he used the horizon line to unify the picture plane, but in this case the thin white border which separated the before and after photographs was like a thin slice of time, a reminder that place, and the people who occupy it, could be erased in the blink of an eye, or the flash of an atomic bomb.

How do you photograph a place that you have never visited but has become familiar via the memories and artefacts belonging to my father? How do I connect past and present and blur the horizon line, to merge the thin white border that separated the temporal shifts in the ‘before and after’ images that my father brought back from Japan?
On arrival in Hiroshima, it was hard to shake off the black and white imagery etched in my memory.  As a streetcar came into view at the station, I was instantly reminded of a photograph in my father’s collection of images that depicted the remains of a blackened and twisted streetcar. As I stood waiting for the streetcar I adjusted to the my surroundings as the image of the past was enfolded by images of the present.

I looked up at some signage at the streetcar stop. There were clear directions on which streetcar number was required to reach the Peace Park and  A-Bomb Dome. As I stood waiting for the streetcar, I  wondered how the people living in Hiroshima felt about their city. Many tourists, such as myself, visit Hiroshima to view the remaining buildings and artefacts associated with the dropping of the A-bomb on August 6, 1945. The bomb wiped out most of the city and what greets visitors now is a modern metropolis. If the tourist signage was removed, the aftermath of the bomb would be difficult to detect.


But the A-Bomb information does much more than assist tourists in their search for the remains of a wartime disaster, these signs and shrines are sites of memory that link past and present, they are markers that aim to resist the dangers of forgetting and to install in the minds of others the importance of remembering those effected by the Atomic Bomb.

So with all of these questions and considerations, how does one go about capturing the visual traces of Hiroshima? After a week in Hiroshima, it’s clear that my first visit is just the beginning of this arts project.




Mobile Photography and Memory Traces

•February 10, 2015 • Leave a Comment

On the weekend I went for a drive with a friend down to the seaside suburb of suburb of Mordialloc, which neighbours the Aspendale, the suburb where I grew up. Using the mobile phone has been a good way to capture images on the go and therefore test out ideas that I might not if I was using a film camera. There are of course disadvantages, the main one being that the image quality is not as good as shooting on a medium format film camera, but at this stage I am looking to identify some of the key tropes and/or characteristics that are emerging in my photographs.

Is it possible to visually represent liminal spaces and what is meant by this term? Is the liminality I speak of really about the remembered world and the present? Why is there an absence of people in the images? Using the cameraphone, which fortunately can capture reasonable quality images in a square format, I can get a sense of the type of images I want to produce for this Phd project. More and more I realise that this project is exploring the link between my memories and how I project them onto spaces in the present. Absence and presence, melancholy and loss are words that seem appropriate in describing the key themes emerging in the photographs and the research.

The next stage involves setting up a camera obscura in the same locations. I am now in the process of building a small portable camera obscure which I will take down to Aspendale. Other projects involve the transformation of existing buildings into camera obscures. A lot of experimentation still needs to be done but there are clear theoretical and creative directions that are emerging and informing the production of my photographic practice.

Below are a series of images that I capture on my iPhone at Mordialloc. These images are purely journal images, rather than  finished images. For me, the function of these images is to stimulate memories that will in turn assist the process of developing a more formalised approach to the capture and collection of images. They form a part of the documentation as I work towards establishing the technical and theoretical strategies that will underpin the images for my Phd project.

Boat Building Factory           Boatshed_original

Propellor          hull

steering wheel          wood stack

Liminality and the everyday: Letting the practice lead the way.

•February 4, 2015 • 2 Comments

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about my Phd project but the time has come to stop thinking too much about the theoretical elements that underpin the Phd project and let the photographs inform the direction of the project. Taking photographs of the everyday using a wide range of cameras has become a strong focus of the project as I search for liminal spaces in the everyday. The photographs below were all taken on an iPhone, but I am also using a Diana plastic camera, pinhole camera, DSLR and Mamiya C220 twin lens reflex camera.

The next stage of the project will involve the building of a small scale portable camera obscura and the transformation of built environments into a camera obscura. The focus of the photographs at the moment is capturing images that trigger memories or  are memory sites. From a 1970’s speedboat on the entrance to a freeway in my hometown, a family xmas feast, a lone pine captured on the day of my mother’s funeral service and an image of the chair my mother used to sit in at the nursing home.

The world seems different after the loss of my mother and the photographs I am taking in the wake of this event are an important part of the documentation as i work towards narrowing the scope of this Phd project.

007 Speedboat, Edithvale, 2014.

Balaclava Station
The here and there, Balaclava, 2014.

Periphery, Oakleigh, 2015.

Bucket list (Narre Warren)
Outskirts, Narre Warren, 2015.

Wish you were here, Edithvale, 2014.

Lone Pine
Lone Pine, Narre Warren, 2014.

Mum's Seat
Since you’ve been gone, Narre Warren, 2014.

Tower, Abbottsford, 2014.

The Language of Place: Representation, In-betweeness and Temporality

•October 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Decombres from Dean Keep on Vimeo.

A clear direction has emerged with the Phd project, with the theory and the practice coming together to explore key areas of investigation. I have thought about the inclusion of the heritage media tools (e.g.; pinhole, film, camera obscura) and the use of archival media to interrogate ideas around the representation of place. I recently made a short film “Decombre’ (see above) to explore the relationship between place and ‘auratic charge’, and how this relationship might be communicated through the use of visual media.

The key theorists I use here are Barthes and Benjamin, with particular reference to Benjamin’s concept of ‘aura’, amnd Barthes’ ‘studium’ and ‘punctum’. Whereas these above-mentioned theorists provide some insight into the construction and reception of the photographic image, I am also interested in the idea of in-betweeness, the space that exists somewhere in the middle of ‘before and after’,’ here and there’, etc. The act of pressing the camera shutter freezes a trace of the physical moment onto film and/or digital sensor to create a visual rendering of the subject. In the case of the Camera Obscura, one might argue that such a moment remains open, there is no fixing of the image but rather an in-betweeness whereby the moment is inverted yet continues to operate as a living image.

Canberra Obscura (video footage captured inside a Camera Obscura) from Dean Keep on Vimeo.

The act of walking inside the camera (Camera Obscura) makes us aware of the mediation of the world outside, reminding us of both the photographic process and the potential of photographic images to act as potent visual signifiers capable of conveying a wide range of information. But how does inhabiting the camera affect our relationship with time and place? Are we situated in a space that exists somewhere between the ‘before and after’? Are we more acutely aware of the passing of time as we inhabit the Camera Obscura?  How can photography shape our understanding of place?

The Auratic Charge: Using photography to interrogate personal and cultural sites of significance.

•August 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment


I am currently in the process of finalising my questions for my Phd. I have a strong sense of what I want this creative research to explore. I am now in the process of producing a series of visual experiments with the aim of teasing out some of the themes and ideas in the questions below.

Questions to consider:

What are charged spaces? Are the charges spaces personal or culturally specific? Eg; Aspendale is personal whereas Hiroshima is the site of an internationally significant event?

How does photography change our relationship or understanding of charged places?

How can photography be used as a tool to analyse and/or interrogate notions of auratic charge in places of personal or cultural significance?

How do other photographers go about photographing charged spaces?

What equipment do they use and/or processes do they go through?

Am I capturing the charge or creating the charge through photographic devices and visual language?

Are the spaces charged or are the images charged, or both?